Reviewby Casey Brienza,
Thunderbolt Boys: Excite
Natsui Kodaka and Ritsu Yasaka are upcoming models, and just recently risqué photographs of the two of them were leaked to the press. In order to give the scandal time to die down, the two boys, along with fellow models Shigure and Nanao, are sent to modeling camp. But while Ritsu, who is heir to the super-wealthy Yasaka Conglomerate, gets the red carpet treatment, Natsui can't seem to make progress in his training and solicits a bit of private “tutoring.” Nanao, meanwhile, encounters problems of his own when he enters a contest that ends up going horribly wrong. But things are soon put aright by the timely appearance of Shigure, and before long Natsui and Ritsu can devote some quality time to what they consider truly important—each other. The conspiracy regarding exactly which party (or parties?) is responsible for those tabloid photos, however, is left for another day.
Despite the toxic yellow shade Media Blasters chose for the bolt-like scribble of the word “Excite” on the cover of its release of both volumes of this series, it is oddly easy to miss amid all of the other competing red and yellow tones. Which is terribly unfortunate, given that this word ought to be cluing experienced anime and manga fans into something not otherwise advertised anywhere else in or on either of the books besides the creator Asami Tojo's atogaki from volume one: Thunderbolt Boys: Excite is a sequel. To be specific, it is a sequel to the three-volume boy's love (BL) series titled, unsurprisingly, Thunderbolt Boys.
As such, if you pick up the first volume of the series under the otherwise reasonable assumption that you will understand the plot, you are going to be in for an unhappy surprise. The book begins smack dab in the middle of an ongoing crisis of some sort, so abruptly that you wonder if the Media Blasters edition isn't missing a sheaf of introductory pages. (It isn't…but it is missing one page from a phone conversation between Natsui and Ritsu a little later on. A page from Nanao's kidnapping, erroneously printed twice, once in its correct context and once in this incorrect one, appears instead. Given that, along with a number of blatant typos throughout, you might be right to be suspicious.) Figuring out what is going on becomes an arduous process of deduction that requires paging back and forth between the contents of the first forty pages or so and a one-page Character Information/Story Background. And this is altogether too much effort to be wasted on this mindless piece of BL puffery. (Tojo's messy layouts don't help reading comprehension either.)
In all fairness to Media Blasters, this may have been a problem in its original Japanese context as well. Thunderbolt Boys was originally published by Tokuma Shoten, while Thunderbolt Boys: Excite was originally published by Houbunsha. The two publishers are known for slightly different sorts of BL content. Tokuma Shoten, for example, tends toward less sexually explicit material than Houbunsha. Therefore, there is no guarantee that fans regularly reading the titles of one publisher automatically read those of another. Tojo fails to accommodate newcomers here, and this is a failure of the series itself, not of its American recontextualization.
In any case, the patient reader will eventually figure out that suggestive photographs of young lovers—and aspiring professional models—Natsui and Ritsu have been leaked to the media, causing a public scandal. To give things time to die down, their modeling agency sends them on a camping retreat where they can train intensively for an upcoming campaign. The rest of the series focuses upon two parallel plots related to the retreat. The first involves the main couple; Natsui feels unworthy of Ritsu and allows Ritsu's assistant to take advantage of him in the name of “private tutoring.” Of course, they eventually end up confirming and consummating their love—at great length through most of volume two—in a private hotel room. Meanwhile, Nanao disguises himself as a woman to enter a contest and gets kidnapped by a gang of hooligans. His friend Shigure has to rescue him, and the two realize that they love each other. The series rounds down with two bonus one-shot stories, “True Love for Sale,” about a prostitute who finds redemption in the arms of one of his clients and “Bittersweet Honey,” about a rich boy who seduces his police bodyguard.
Neither the main storyline of Thunderbolt Boys: Excite nor the two shorts are particularly worthy, even by the admittedly low standards of the boy's love genre. The characters are flat-out unrealistic, cookie-cutter archetypes, and the situations they find themselves in, particularly those involving coerced sex, are so clichéd that they read like a bad joke. Even depictions of the characters' passions are hollow and stale—plenty of shots of tangled limbs, but no genuine heart anywhere to be found. “Love” should always be the keyword of the BL genre. This series, on the other hand, is just a banal exercise in erotic spectacle. (If all you want are the sex scenes, head straight over to volume two, which is more explicit than volume one.)
Arguably worst of all, though, the conflict involving those tabloid photos that got this sequel started in the first place is never fully resolved, kicked unashamedly to the wayside like the sorry excuse for a BL plot that it always was. And moreover, because the mangaka met an untimely death last year, it never will be. At the end of the day, this series is unlikely to please anyone. Sure it's got some bishounen eye candy, but eye candy is penny-cheap these days, and it's not demanding too much to expect more.
Overall : C
Story : D+
Art : B
+ A decent helping of pretty boys wearing sultry expressions. Plenty of BL action in the second volume.
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